Changes Ahead for The United Methodist Church?
Many United Methodists feel like we are wandering in the wilderness as we seek to resolve our conflict over the authority of scripture and the inclusion of homosexual persons in the life and leadership of The United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Council of Bishops has called a Special General Conference in St. Louis, MO, on Feb. 23-26, 2019, to try to resolve this issue.
At this point, it is not at all clear how this conflict will be resolved, but we are people of faith who believe that God is with us whatever the outcome of this General Conference might be. God may do a new thing to make a way for us to continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
The Council of Bishops and the Commission on a Way Forward have proposed three possible plans to help the church resolve our conflict. United Theological Seminary does not endorse any of these plans, but we encourage fervent prayer for the 864 delegates to the General Conference from all over the world as they seek to discern God’s will for the future of The United Methodist Church.
Regardless of what happens at General Conference, United Theological Seminary will continue to welcome any students from any branch of the church who want to become faithful and fruitful Christian leaders whom God can use to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Whatever the General Conference decides, local congregations will still need Spirit-filled pastors who lead them to become faithful followers of Jesus Christ, and United will continue to prepare pastors and church leaders to serve God and these congregations.
Grace and peace,
Dr. Kent Millard
THE ONE CHURCH PLAN
The intention of the One Church Plan is for The United Methodist Church to remain together as one denomination while allowing different practices in different Annual Conferences and in different local congregations regarding the ordination of LGBTQ clergy and the performing of same-sex weddings.
The One Church Plan allows Boards of Ordained Ministry and Clergy Sessions of each Annual Conference to decide if they will or will not ordain LGBTQ clergy. Local United Methodist congregations will be authorized to decide if they will or will not allow same-sex weddings to be conducted in their church. In order to achieve this goal, the current statements in the Discipline prohibiting the ordination of LGBTQ clergy and the performing of same-sex weddings on church property would be removed. Provisions are made for clergy and congregations who do not agree with the decision of their Board of Ordained Ministry and Clergy Session to transfer to other conferences and congregations with whom they do agree. The United Methodist Judicial Council ruled on October 26, 2018 that the One Church Plan was largely constitutional, with the exception of three sentences that would need to be removed or revised for the plan to be considered at General Conference.
THE TRADITIONAL PLAN
The Traditional Plan retains the current language in the Discipline that values all persons as equally “of sacred worth, created in the image of God.” It also retains the current statement, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” It would continue the prohibition on ordaining gay clergy or performing same-sex weddings.
The Traditional Plan would require every Bishop to agree to fully uphold and enforce the standards of the church around same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals or be subject to a disciplinary process administered by the Council of Bishops. Each Annual Conference would be required to make a commitment to uphold the standards of the church regarding the ordination of practicing homosexuals and same-sex marriage or be encouraged to withdraw from The United Methodist Church to form their own self-governing body. Clergy who are found guilty of performing a same-sex wedding would have a mandatory minimum penalty of one year’s suspension without pay for the first offence and removal of clergy credentials for a second offence. Annual Conferences that do not agree with these standards can withdraw from The United Methodist Church with their assets and liabilities but would be responsible for their Annual Conference pension liabilities. Any group of 50 or more local congregations that do not support these standards could vote to withdraw from The United Methodist Church to form a self-governing United Methodist Church upon payment of each local church’s share of their Annual Conference’s unfunded pension liability.
Bishops and clergy who are unable to live within the boundaries of conduct established by the Discipline would be encouraged to transfer to a self-governing United Methodist Church that affirms their beliefs. The Judicial Council recently ruled that several of the proposals in the Traditional Plan are unconstitutional and would need to be removed or revised for this plan to be considered at General Conference.
THE CONNECTIONAL PLAN
The Connectional Plan would create three new Connectional Conferences in place of the current five geographical jurisdictional in the United States. Each Connectional Conference would cover the entire United States.
There would be a Traditional Conference which maintains the current Discipline’s prohibition of same sex marriage and the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals. There would be a Unity Conference that would neither forbid nor require same-sex marriage and the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals. There would be a Progressive Conference which would require and expect all pastors to perform same sex weddings and all its annual conferences to ordain and appoint practicing homosexual clergy.
Current Annual Conferences would decide which of the three Connectional Conferences they would join, and congregations that disagreed with their annual conference decision could join a different connectional conference. Bishops and Clergy would also choose which Connectional Conference they wanted to join.
All three Connectional Conferences would still be part of The United Methodist Church and participate in General Conference, but each would have the autonomy to operate in harmony with their own theological perspectives.
Enactment of this plan would require eight constitutional amendments, which require a two-thirds majority at General Conference and a two-thirds majority of all members of all Annual Conferences. This process would require at least a four-year implementation period. The Judicial Council said they had no jurisdiction over this proposal, since the constitutional amendments first would have to be passed before they could rule on these constitutional issues. This proposal will probably not be considered at the special General Conference.